I was having a discussion with a colleague a week or so ago. We were discussing fees, day rates, licensing issues... At some point during the conversation, I was asked what my basic production fee/day was. When I explained to her that it wasn't as easy as that, that many factors go into preparing an estimate to produce photography and went on to explain how I calculate such things, she responded "I wish I could get that. I'm tired of being broke. I think I deserve to be able to afford a new camera.. blah, blah, blah"
My next question to her was "Well, have you tried?"
She responded with a "No".
And there lies the crux of the biscuit, so to speak. if you're not getting what you think you need, deserve, or what the job is worth, it's no one's fault but yours. No one is going to hand you reasonable fee unless you learn to ask for it. Sure, times are tough at the moment all around. We're all taking a hit on the financial end of things. Does that mean we still work, produce our best efforts and then hand them over to a client for amounts that ensure that our mortgages & health care doesn't get paid next month? I admit that it's a problem I face & struggle with daily. We've got to eat, we've got to pay our expenses. To that end, we sometimes find ourselves forced to make deals with the devil to keep on keeping on.
I've said this before & I'll say it again... no one... repeat... no one is going to place a proper value on your work. That's your job. There are many factors that go into placing a proper value on any given assignment. Is the job editorial or is it advertising? How will it be used? Will it appear in print, e-publishing, both? How long does the client feel they need to use the work. Will it be distributed locally, regionally, nationally, internationally. What languages will it appear? What sort of circulation numbers will distribution of the work have? These are all points to consider when figuring out what an assignment is worth in fees & expenses.
So many of the young, up and coming photographer that I meet these days seem to base their pricing on what they think their peers are charging... and then they price themselves slightly lower. That's Walmart pricing strategy... not a sustainable model for a career in photography (or any other creative business).
A case in point is a publication right here on the Valley Isle. I won't name any names here, but the magazine is slick, well-designed, decent editorial content.... yet their standard editorial rate for photography starts around $200/day including web publishing use in perpetuity. Many of the young bucks in our creative community will jump at that chance to get published for paltry fees citing the "exposure" of being published in the mag as payment enough. On one hand, I don't completely disagree with them. On the other, one has to ask oneself at what point does one begin suffering "economic frostbite" from such exposure. I won't work for the standard editorial rates that this publication offers, yet they still hand me assignments on a consistent basis. Have you asked for more? Word... they will pay if your work is something they want or need. Recently, this very publication wanted to run a feature on astro-photography from atop the volcanos. The photographer was paid handsomely for his stellar photographs. Why? because they wanted the story and because the photographer demanded reasonable use fees to allow them to publish his work.
So... the point in all this is: hone your skills. Focus on areas of work where your image making excells. Instead of trying to shoot everything and producing mediocre and diluted bodies of work, hone in on what you do best and try to do it better with each new opportunity. Stand your ground when it comes to negotiating fees for both advertising assignments and editorial work. You simply have no power in the negotiating arena until you are prepared to say "NO". And always keep in mind that, and this applies especially to editorial publications, these business are content driven. They need text & images or they have no product to sell to advertisers or subscribers. If we all kept that simple fact forefront in our heads, the industry would not be in the shambles we find ourselves in today.
And drop the Walmart pricing model. Cheaper is not better. I'll bet that you're willing to pay more for organic produce at your local supermarket because you perceive it to have a higher value than the non-organic produce. You know that the farmer put in the extra effort to bring you better, safer and tastier veggies. He prices his produce based on his annual cost of business for running his farm, not by what ACME vegetables is charging. remember, once you get yourself pegged as the photographer willing to work for little, it's very hard, if not impossible to ever cut a better deal in the future.
Here's a little of the thought process that goes into each and every assignment estimate I submit. it's based on my cost of doing business on an annual basis, not on what my fellow photographers are charging for their work. My basic day rate is determined by my annnual overhead. here are some of the things I have to consider:
- Studio Rent
- Retirement Plan
- Liability Insurance
- Inland Marine Insurance (equipment coverage)
- Annual Projected Equipment Purchase/Repair Expenditure Needs
- Office Supplies
- Health Insurance
- Automobile Expenses (car payment, gas, insurance, wear & tear)
- Postage, Shipping, Delivery
- Utilities for Office or Studio
Once you've added up these annual expenditures and any other projected projected annual costs of doing business, then the next step is to calculate the average number of days you expect to work during the year. When I say work, I mean days shooting on site, days or partial days in pre and post production for each assignment, time spent processing images, scouting, etc. Now divide that projected annual overhead expenses by the projected number of working days and you end up with a rough idea of what you need to make on each assignment just to break even.
Quite frankly, I'd rather spend my time producing work for myself to better build my portfolio to attract better paying assignments that to run around working just as hard for very little payoff. In the end, I know that there will always be another photographer that will knuckle under and take those low-paying assignments. I comfort myself knowing that they have to work five assignments to earn the fee that I will earn in one. And, at the same time, I also know that the assignments I do land are because the client valued my work and was willing to pay for it and not because I was like Walmart and applying the "Beat Any Price" model to my business.